Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep PSP Review

September 24, 2010 by  
Filed under Features, PSP, Reviews

Publisher – Square Enix – Developer – Square Enix – Genre –  Action RPG – Players – 1 – Age Rating – 12+ – Other console/handheld formats – N/A

Whereas DS game Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days was largely a lazy retread of past games in the series, but one with a structural change, fellow portable game Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, with its authenticity and quality is a far more interesting game and one that could quite easily pass as Kingdom Hearts III.

The visual quality is certainly not a million miles away from the PS2 iterations and is an excellent example of the capabilities of the PSP. Character detail particularly impresses, whilst battles have all the spectacle that Square Enix has become famous for amongst gamers. There are also options that you allow you to sacrifice battery life for a smoother frame rate and you can opt for 32 bit colours, of which allows for more vibrancy, though can cause slowdown, both options are most welcome.

In narrative terms, the game takes place prior to any of Sora’s adventures and instead has three fresh central characters, all of which are aspiring keyblade masters (thinking of them as Kingdom Hearts’ version of Jedi’s wouldn’t be too far off the mark): Ventus (Ven to his friends) is typical for the genre, a spiky haired youth with memory issues, whilst Terra is struggling with his inner darkness, and finally Aqua is not only Kingdom Hearts’ first female protagonist, but also brings with her a unique magical focussed play style to the series.

The three protagonists aren't as memorable as most of the Disney characters featured in the game.

All three characters have their own story, which are each roughly around 10 to 15 hours in length and playing them all through to their conclusions is the only way that you’re going to have a full understanding of the reasonably entertaining plot. As is to be expected from any Kingdom Hearts title, along the way all three protagonists encounter Disney characters and worlds of which mesh with Square Enix’s very Japanese creations to as surprising degree as they always have.

The worlds consist of the likes of Neverland, Olympus Coliseum and the Enchanted Dominion. There’s a satisfying amount of variety and the sub stories regarding the iconic Disney characters are nearly always an alternate version of the stories from the famous films, but with Square Enix’s characters tossed into familiar events. It all manages to connect to an adequate level, rarely feeling truly disjointed with the larger story, which is commendable given the contrasts between the characters and the worlds.

The three lead characters all visit the same worlds as one another; though this is not as lazy as it sounds – each often visits different areas of the same worlds, whilst specific characters will even meet Disney personalities and faceoff against bosses that don’t feature in the other stories. It all results in a game that never gets dull, despite the fact that you have to visit the same worlds multiple times.

Much of the time in these worlds will be spent fighting and it’s as enjoyable as it’s always been. Combat takes place in real time and along with regular attacks, you’re also able to unleash magical spells and abilities, of which enter a cooldown period when used. To use them you must scroll up and down a list, which unfortunately doesn’t pause the action, and as a result, focussing on selecting the right ability for the situation, can leave you vulnerable to attack, sometimes even leading to some frustrating deaths. You can shortcut a single command, though it certainly would have been better if you could do the same with multiple commands.

Before you’re able to use abilities you must first equip them on your deck. There are limited slots to do so, though you have three decks of which outside of combat you can switch between at will to perhaps better prepare yourself for a battle that you’ve been struggling with.

As for new combat mechanics, there’s a new shotlock command of which is a ranged attack that allows you to lock on to multiple enemies. Also a rather clever idea is that by using magical spells and such within combos, you can temporarily change your command style. For example, by using a fire spell it’s possible to be shift to the firestorm style, where every strike will deal fire damage to your enemies.

Another fresh addition is the Dimensional Link System: this allows you to use the skills of other characters you have encountered. Defeating regular enemies whilst linked with another character will occasionally reward you with an item that will automatically power up that particular Dimensional Link. It’s an essential facet of combat, particularly for the higher difficulties, as it allows you to be temporarily granted abilities that you otherwise don’t have equipped in your deck.

The most challenging boss encounters - many of which are Disney antagonists - show off the combat system in the best light.

Abilities level up, of which makes them more effective and when some of them reach high enough levels, you’re able to meld two to create a new, more power variation of the spell. Something else to bear in mind is that involving certain items in the creation process will also gain you bonus abilities, of which initially are only available when the spell is equipped, though by levelling up the spell to its full potential, they will become a permanent aspect of your skill-set. It’s a rewarding system to play around with and without a doubt one that many genre fans will enjoy exploring to a deep level.

Levelling up abilities doesn’t only have to be done through fighting, but can also come about by using the command board, a board game. This is fairly addictive and the rest of the mini games and other diversions are largely a decent way to spend some time, some of which can even be played in Ad Hoc multiplayer.

Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep is an impressive representation of the series (both from a technical and mechanical level), problems are largely slight and unlike a lot of other portable games it doesn’t feel as if it’s a trimmed down version of the mainline series – it could of quite easily have been the true successor to Kingdom Hearts II, and what’s more it’s actually one of the strongest entries that the Kingdom Hearts franchise has yet seen.

8/10

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